Everlasting Kindness, Everlasting

July 30, 2023

Book: Psalms

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Scripture: Psalm 136

Join Josh Laack as he examines the God we worship through the lens of His goodness toward His chosen people. When we see God through this lens, then we will want to give Him the thanks that He deserves in the way He desires.

Thank you, Jamie. Morning, everyone. Singing that last psalm or that last song yet not I, but Christ in me. It’s a beautiful picture. But is that really is that really what humanity tends to do? Is that really the way our hearts typically go? You know, about about three years ago, I started listening through the scripture instead of just reading it. And as I was doing that, I found a different experience than I expected to. I found an emotion in myself, sympathy for God, something I had never thought would ever happen, something I never expected to find. And yet I felt really bad for God as I was listening. And let me explain why. Here’s our creator, God, who creates this beautiful world from nothing. This universe, from nothing. And He makes us. And he gives us this beautiful world to live in. He intervenes in our lives over and over again and in miraculous ways. And what do humans do? Almost immediately, humanity turns away from the God who does all this for them. And then they start worshiping other things instead of worshiping the Creator God. And I can’t imagine how I would respond if I had done everything I could for someone. And then they went, eh, whatever, and went and thanked someone else for everything that I had just done. And yet that’s exactly what humanity does to God over and over again. The first time I noticed it was with Israel and the Israelites have just witnessed God’s amazing intervention.

They’ve been in slavery for hundreds of years in Egypt, and God comes in with power and authority and takes them out of Egypt and he gets them across the Red Sea and he leads them into the wilderness. And Moses says, okay, everybody, we’re going to sit here for a minute. I got to run up this mountain and I’m going to get the law from God, and he’s going to tell us how we should worship him. The Israelites barely make it a couple of weeks and they get bored and they start to say to themselves, maybe, maybe he’s not coming back. So instead of asking God, what should we do? Or worshiping God, in the time as they wait, they start worshiping a golden calf that they had to make first because it didn’t exist before. After they make it, this calf still does absolutely nothing for them. It’s a statue, but they still worship that instead of the living God, the one who they just witnessed performing these miracles, they just saw the cloud and the fire. They just saw this Red Sea part. The calf? It kind of just sits there. What are you doing, Israel? Later in Isaiah 44, God is frustrated again at this kind of behavior. And he speaks through the words of his prophet. A man takes a cedar tree, he cuts it down, and with half of it, he warms himself and cooks his meal. Then with the other half, he carves himself an idol and falls down before it worshiping this thing that he just carved after burning the other half. Clearly not something with a lot of power. It can’t prevent itself from being cut down. It can’t prevent itself from being burned. And yet that gets worship when God does not. Instead of stopping here, mankind invents new and more depraved ways to bring what they consider worship into the world. In Jeremiah 19, we find people building high places to worship bail. And on these high places they burn children as worship, Something God then says not only that he didn’t command or mention. He says it’s something that never even entered his mind as something that should or could even be worship. Just imagine God up there looking down saying, What are you doing? When did you come up with this insanity as worship? What do I have to do to prove to you that I am God alone, and that this is not acceptable worship? Now I know that God already knew that mankind would fail, but I just can’t help but feel bad for our Creator God, as he watches his creation time and again, not show him even an iota of the love and worship that he deserves.

I’d love to say we’ve gotten a lot better since then, but I can’t. Even today, there are many nations and peoples that still worship created things. They worship statues of gold and wood, and even those who don’t do that anymore, we still tend to worship things that are not God. We invest our pride and our time in the in the works of our hands in seeking earthly pleasures and treasures. We let money and fun and and all the things that we want rule over our lives, as King of our lives. And even some of us who claim that they worship God, some of us who sing the songs that we sang today, still give him only the scraps of time and resources that are left after they do the things that they want. Seek the things that they want. These actions do not declare real worship to our God. These actions do not show God that we see who He is and what He has done. As believers, in order to respond to the love that God has shown us first, we must declare our thanks and our praise to God, not only with hearts that say that that we love him, but with actions that show that that love is real. But why? Why would we want to do that? Why would we want to show God praise over anything or anyone else? Why should we give him thanks for anything at all? Who is this God and why does he deserve this kind of praise? Today we are going to look together at Psalm 136 to see why we should praise God in this way, because of who He is and what He has done for his people.

Now, before we dive into that, as we discovered when we joined together a little bit ago, this Psalm is a responsive psalm and it feels a little repetitive to say that same thing 26 times. Imagine being the one doing the research for this sermon. I’ve read that phrase a few times, preparing for today. But you know, that’s a phrase that we should keep front and center in our hearts as we think about how to live our lives and how to respond to our God. His steadfast love endures forever. That’s more than just repeating something 26 times. That’s for eternity. The psalmist wants us to repeat it after every line because they believe that this should be central to how we think about how we respond to our God. That this idea of God’s steadfast love should be the central component of how we think about him and how we respond to him. The phrase can be translated several different ways and is found in different versions of Scripture. Alternatively, as mercy, as loving kindness, or here, as in steadfast love, and the phrase essentially in its basic Hebrew form says, for God’s everlasting kindness is everlasting. No matter which of these ways this is translated, what is clear here is that there can be no doubt in this phrase that we are to recognize the eternal, the everlasting goodness, mercy, love of God, from eternity past through to eternity future. Who he was, who he is and who he is to come is God, loving, kind and merciful.

And this attribute is eternally part of who he is. It’s not separate from him. You can’t take God’s kindness out of God. And each line that precedes this phrase, this response from us then, is something that we are to praise God for. To give him thanks for that comes out of this everlasting kindness, that comes out of this mercy shown us from eternity past to eternity future.

And in Psalm 136, we find four ideas that shape our view of who God is and what He’s done. We find them in his identity, in his creation, in his rescue, and in his provision. And each of these is a reason for us as to why we should want to worship him and give him thanks and praise for who he is and what he has done. The first reason is we look into his identity and here we are given definitive statements about the nature of God himself, starting in verse one Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His steadfast love endures forever. As humans, we typically start backwards from this. We look at the result of things in our lives or in the lives of those around us. And then we subjectively decide whether those things are good or not. And if we like the outcome of what has happened, then we decide that whoever caused that thing must be good. And the problem with that is that’s on us, a me perspective, and God does not work on that perspective. God has a bigger, better perspective than that. And the Psalmist wants us to begin to think about God from the very beginning with no doubt in our minds that He is good.

We like to think only good if I agree with what’s happening. I’ve mentioned before that when I was in high school, I did speech and I did the category of storytelling and storytelling is you have about 30 stories ahead of time that you get to practice a little bit. And then on the day of a competition, you go into the library at the school and you pick out a single story from an envelope, and then you have about a half hour to practice before you go into a room with judges and an audience and you tell that story with voices and with actions trying to to make it as compelling as you can. I loved doing that. I really kind of got me into the idea of wanting to speak in front of people at all. And one particular strong memory is one year. This was my senior year is my last chance to do something with this because it was finals and this performance decided whether or not I would get to go to state competition. And after six years of doing this, I had come close, but I had never actually made it to state. And it was this was my last chance and I did the best job I have done up to that point. And I was pumped because I knew I deserved this. And I even had a couple people in the room that said, Yup, you did the best, the best job. So those judges better get it right. All I got to the award ceremony. The judging time was over, and not only did I not get first place, they put me out of even back up contention. They put me at the bottom of the list of six who performed for the final. Not good judges. The problem was, is I entered into this with my own personal expectation. My own decision about what the only possible way a good outcome would look like. The only possible way that these judges could be good judges. And what they said and did didn’t fit with what I had already decided was good. What if instead, I had gone into the room knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that these were good judges, that they would make the right decision? How would my perspective have been able to shift? How would I have been able to focus on the result differently? I could have asked different questions. I could have stepped back and said, What do these good judges see in all of these performances that I don’t see? What kinds of ways do these judges think that I can increase my ability to perform something else in the future? How can I be a better person out of this? Because these are good judges and they have made the right choice. Flipping the narrative around this way can drastically alter the way we view the world around us and the way we view the things that happen to us. And this is exactly how the psalmist wants us to begin here with God. We are to give thanks to God that He is good. End of story. No doubt. No question. In the Psalmist mind, God is good. And this good that he is. That’s a part of who he is. Comes out of his everlasting kindness that is everlasting. So we are then to say in gratitude and in praise, that his steadfast love endures forever because he is good. And he is good because his steadfast love endures forever. And of course, this is just the start. This is a first identity piece. The psalmist goes on to say, Give thanks to the God of gods. Give thanks to the Lord of Lords. And here the Psalmist recognizes two things that belong to our God alone. First, there are many other gods, Little G in this world. Most of them are fake and have absolutely no bearing on our lives whatsoever.

However, the Bible does recognize that Satan is the God of this world. Little G. We can see in the actions of some of the demons that they have, powers that we don’t have access to. They can do things that are beyond human nature. And so they can seem to some to be like gods. We see in prophecy false beasts and prophets, and we see the Antichrist all performing things that are well beyond human ability. They can seem like gods, and none of them would even exist if it weren’t for God. None of them would have a tiny bit of authority or ability or anything without God. He is the God of gods. There is no other God, no other name, which even comes close to our God. Second. God alone is Lord. This is a word that contains the idea of being master owner of something. All that exists in our world, every bit of it and every authority within it exist underneath the Lordship of God. Underneath his ownership. Why? Because he created it. He owns every little bit of it. And he alone makes the final decisions in our world. Because his steadfast love endures forever. The way God rules, the way God is in authority, is in his steadfast love with everlasting kindness. Everlasting. And now with this understanding of who God is, knowing that he is good and the ultimate authority, now we begin to examine what is it that God does with this power and authority.

The next section of the Psalm explores God as Creator. Give thanks to Him who alone does great wonders. You know, in our world, we have lists of great wonders. I think of the seven wonders of the ancient world or the the eight wonders of the modern world. I think it’s eight or used to be seven. And now we’ve put another on. Some of those things are so incredible that to this day with modern technology, we have absolutely no idea how the humans of that time built them, how they made them. Humans are amazing in what they can do, and yet that all that humanity has accomplished put together doesn’t even come close to comparing with the wonders that our God has done. We’re kids playing in a tiny sandbox with our little tools digging in the dirt. God, on the other hand, created the sand, created the box, created the dirt that the sand sits on, created the kids that are digging in the sand and even created the wisdom, the knowledge necessary for us to be creative in the first part. Listen to this. To him, who by understanding, made the heavens. God did this out of his wisdom, out of knowledge that came from him first. To him who spread out the earth above the waters. To him who made the great lights, the sun to rule over the day, the moon and stars to rule over the night. Why? For his steadfast love endures forever. God isn’t just the Lord God who owns everything as Lord of all. He understood exactly what was necessary for it to exist. And then not only did he have the knowledge, he put it to action. He did something with it. He created this world for us. And he rules it all because he made it. God has the patent on all of creation and nobody else can create the way God can. Nobody else has the power, authority or ability to create the way that our God does. Thanks be to this good God who showed us His everlasting kindness with us by creating a world, creating us, and putting us in this world to share in it. What a good God. The Psalmist was right. And now we turn to looking at this Good God as rescuer. Give thanks to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt. Wait. What? That doesn’t seem so good. We were just praising and celebrating this good God for his kindness and mercy. Where did. where did this come from? This action doesn’t seem so loving. Surely a good God wouldn’t do this, right? By our human definitions of love and kindness, this is outside of our understanding. But if we begin, as the Psalmist did, with the understanding that God is good, then we can ask different questions. We can end even this line with For his steadfast love endures forever.

Since God is good and there is no doubt, in my mind, that He is. What is his purpose in doing something like this? We’re not being shown a God who is good some of the time. We’re being shown a God who is good all of the time and we understand that. So what is God doing? We are seeing God here as a rescuer of his people, of the nation, of Israel, of his chosen people. To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt and brought Israel out from among them with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. The God who created both the Egyptians and the Israelites has, in his authority and by his power, the right to do as he wills with both of them. The right to choose this nation and to elevate them to show his great love to the world and to the creation. He’s chosen here to intercede in the world stage and to show his loving kindness to Israel by bringing them out of slavery to the Egyptians, where they have been for hundreds of years. And the Israelites reading and singing this would have known the complete story just as you and I can. Even in his attempt to show Israel his loving kindness, God gave Egypt, time and again, chances to go a different route, to not have to face this end. And yet Pharaoh hardened his heart to each of them. It got to this point not because God isn’t loving and kind. It got to this point because the Egyptians refused to submit to his authority, to his power, to his name. And even after this, Pharaoh lets the people go and immediately hardens his heart and changes his mind again, even this was not enough to really show the Egyptians God’s power over his creation. They thought they had a way to change things the way they wanted them. And so the Israelites have escaped and Pharaoh immediately gathers up his army and chases after them. And God says, Oh, no, you don’t. To him, who divided the Red Sea in two and made Israel pass through the midst of it, they were stuck up against the water and God said, Hey, I’m not leaving you here. Let me show you my loving kindness once again, as I allow you to escape from something that you have no ability to escape from on your own.

Here we find an impossible situation for the Israelites, made simple, made easy by God’s great power, by his loving kindness and intervention. And he’s not done yet. Here Egypt is roaring up behind them, racing out onto the dry bed of the sea to come after them and to crush them. But God doesn’t allow Egypt to catch up or to harm a single person, but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea. It’s a lot of stuff God has done for these Israelites, but does His love and his kindness, does that end here? No. It is ever lasting. Kindness everlasting. He rescued them from Egypt, rescued them from Pharaoh. And now the psalmist brings us to God as provider for his people. To him who led his people through the wilderness, he leads them safely through this dangerous place, even though they fail to remember him as God and turn to worship that golden calf that they made with their own hands. God still leads them, still provides for them, still showers them with his love and kindness, and he leads them to victory over their enemies in the land that he is giving them. To him who struck down great kings and killed mighty kings. Sihon King of the Amorites, Og King of Bashan, and gave their land as a heritage, a heritage to Israel. His servant for his steadfast love endures forever. God goes before Israel. He’s their victory and he’s their provider. And he gives them this land of milk and honey that he promised their father, Abraham. And in a way, he is still showing everlasting kindness to Abraham here, as he’s fulfilling the promise that he made to him, that he would bring Israel out and give them this land of milk and honey. And then the psalmist ends with the summary for us of how God cares for His people. It is He who remembered us in our lowest state and rescued us from our foes. He who gives food to all flesh. Give thanks to the God of Heaven. For his steadfast love endures forever. This is a God who deeply cares for his people. For the life, the safety, and the provision of his people. And we know that he is good and he demonstrates both his goodness and his steadfast love over and over and over again, even to a people that fail. He deserves the praise and thanks of his people. He deserves that from his people.

And what would the Israelites have thought of when they heard this psalm and considered how to show their thanks and praise? What kind of praise and thanks is God looking for? Well, if you remember, they are waiting at the bottom of the mountain when Moses went up to get the law for them. That’s when they had their big flub and they started worshiping this calf. And Moses comes down, he breaks those tablets, destroys the calf and says, Wait for me this time. Goes back up, gets the law, and he comes back down to tell Israel, What is it that God wants from you? What is it that shows God the praise and the thanks that He deserves for who he is? Because he has already showered you with his provision, with his love, and with his kindness. What do we do in response? How should these people, with their hearts and with their actions, show God that He is their God? Deuteronomy 10:12-17 and now Israel.

What does the Lord, your God ask of you? But to fear the Lord, your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good. The Israelites are to declare their thanks and praise to God for who He is and what He has done with hearts that love Him and with action that demonstrates that love. And why are they to do this? First, because it’s for their own good. It benefits God’s chosen people to worship him, to live life the way he would have them live it. But second, he deserves it. Why? Because it goes to the Lord, Your God who owns the heavens, even the highest heavens, the earth and everything in it. Yet the Lord set his affection on your ancestors and loved them and chose you, their descendants, above all nations as it is today. So what do we do? Circumcise your hearts, therefore, Israelites. And do not be stiff necked any longer. For the Lord, your God is what? God of Gods and Lord of Lords, the Great God, mighty and awesome who shows no partiality, and accepts no bribes because God is mighty and awesome because He is the God who alone does great wonders, because He created the heavens and the earth. And so He owns them. He is the God of Gods and the Lord of Lords. And in His everlasting kindness, everlasting, He chose their ancestors and them to demonstrate his great love to. Don’t stubbornly turn away from this God, Israel. Don’t worship other gods. Don’t surrender your heart to other authorities. Instead, circumcise your hearts. Cut off the things that lead you to worship golden calves and trees and instead worship the Lord God alone, for his steadfast love endures forever. Now, what about us? This was Old Testament. That’s just for the Israelites. That’s the Old Testament. Surely the God of the New Testament has something different that he wants from us. Jesus has come, and he’s fulfilled this law. So we don’t we don’t have to live this way anymore, do we? How do we show our thanks and our praise to God? In John 14, near the end of his time physically on Earth, Jesus is explaining to his disciples that he’s about to leave them and He’s going to send them this helper, this Holy Spirit that’s going to help them to live a certain way, to do a certain thing. He’s going away to be with the father, and here is what he expects of his chosen nation, his people here on this earth who love him. Here is how we show love to God. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him. This is actually repeated three times here in this same passage, this idea that we are to show God our love by obeying his commands, by taking his word and understanding what it is that he would have us do and actually do it. Not to earn salvation, not to not to gain something because we do great works by our own hands, simply to show God our love and our thanks, because he has already done those things for us.

God doesn’t leave us there. He doesn’t tell us. We have to figure it out ourselves. Jesus not only fulfilled the law, he is the example that we are to follow. Listen to what Jesus says. I do as the Father has commanded me. Verse 31, so that the world may know that I love the Father. His obedience, even obedience to the cross is how we are able to have a relationship with him in the first place. And it’s the example of how we are to live our lives. When we have that relationship. We must show our love for God in response to who He is and what He has done through obedience to him, through hearts that love him and action that shows that love. And that is how you and I give thanks to the God of Heaven for his steadfast love endures forever.

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